To really get the benefit of the pretty, faithfully French bistro Bouchon, try to arrange for a new lover to have recently entered your life. Preferably, he's adept at ordering wine in French and knows the difference between an Umami and a Kumamoto oyster. If he's a little late, go ahead and order a flute of champagne and sit at the bar flashing a bit of leg and leafing through Le Figaro. Flirt with the bartender until he arrives and the waiter leads the two of you to a secluded table, where you'll share tastes of shellfish, charcuterie and bites of steak and frites before ending with a sensuously oozing cheese plate, and maybe hopping over to the Montage Hotel for the rest of the afternoon. OK, now that I've got that over with, here's what my meal was actually like. I was looking forward to a birthday lunch at Bouchon, especially after I was lucky enough to be invited to the lavish opening party where I sampled oysters and foie gras, hung out in the kitchen with the head pastry chef and baked my own baguette. Of course, it's a whole different kettle of mussels when it's on your own dime (or even your friends' dime.) Kathy took some time to look over the brief wine list, and we chose a French rose for a rare boozy lunch. It was rainy and I was threatening to come down with a cold, so we started with carrot ginger soup. The thick soup was perfectly smooth and buttery, but lacked any discernable ginger taste and could have maybe used an acidic note to elevate it beyond haute baby food. A simple salad with warm goat cheese was correct, as they say in France, with fresh, flavorful lettuce and a perfectly salted viniagrette. Usually we tend to order fish to share, but trout with almonds sounded too old-school, tuna nicoise sounded too cold on a damp day and Kathy had eaten salmon the night before, so we ended up choosing poulet a la grand-mere. Half of a good quality, teen-ager sized chicken was plenty to share, with purple potatoes and lardons upping the ante in the savory jus that was just a touch undersalted (other bloggers have called it totally oversalted -- guess they're working to get it just right). My favorite part of the meal was actually a side dish of Brussels sprouts with bacon and salted capers, which packed a great contrast of lightly bitter roasted sprouts with salty bacon and capers, all happily swimming in a small pool of beurre noisette. Actually, I'd like a small pool of beurre noisette to swim in instead of a jacuzzi, if that could be arranged.
This was a pretty modest lunch, but still ran to $100. Service was extremely attentive and professional, which is really refreshing. The bistro cooking at Bouchon is competent and satisfying, but the menu isn't all that exciting. It's a lovely, airy fin de siecle room, but with paper tablecloths, bread placed right on the table, brown paper menus and chunky carafes of wine, it's not a fine dining place, despite the prices.
None of this will be news to people who have eaten at Thomas Keller's other Bouchons, and the ladies of Beverly Hills can always use a new lunch spot. It's a pleasant spot if you've got the blé...now if they'd only finalize plans for the bakery. In the meantime, the downstairs bar should be open very soon if you just want to pop in for that flute of champagne and a few nibbles.